At least 60 people have died in industrial accidents in the last decade in plastics processing factories, according to a review of federal government records.
The dry, matter-of-fact descriptions of the deaths can be sobering, both for their details and for showing how quickly a seemingly normal workday can go wrong.
One employee at an ABC Polymer Industries plant in Alabama, for example, was cutting materials on a fast-moving extrusion line in 2017 when she "was pulled into the machine and was crushed when caught between the webbing and rollers."
In another incident detailed in Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports, an employee at a Winpak Portion Packaging Inc. plant in Illinois in 2018 was killed when he was pinned between sections of a thermoforming machine. The employee was working on a three-person crew troubleshooting the press and adjusting a vacuum pump.
"The employee was caught and pinned between the two sections and was found unresponsive by co-workers before being transported to a local hospital, where he later died," OSHA said.
Electrocution is another common cause.
The owner of Meridian Precision Inc., a small custom extrusion firm in Pennsylvania, was doing maintenance on a shredder and conveyor system in June 2020, but it was still plugged in and energized to 480 volts, the OSHA reports said.
The 68-year-old "cut a wire in the cord plug using a pair of wire strippers. He was electrocuted and was killed," OSHA said.
The OSHA records show that electrocution and crushing injuries are some of the most common causes of workplace fatalities in plastics processing.
Officially, the OSHA records show 73 workplace deaths since January 2011 for plastics processing, measured by the North American Industry Classification System for plastics products manufacturing.
A few of the incidents cover deaths from natural cases that happened at work, like an employee having a heart attack. But more than 60 are fatalities caused directly by industrial accidents. That figure is likely an undercount, when you add in plastics processing firms that are listed by the government in other NAICS codes.
The OSHA fatality numbers fluctuate from year to year. The agency's records show 13 deaths in 2013, the most in the decade, and 10 each in 2016 and 2017. But they showed only two in 2019 and five in 2011 within plastics processing.